Improbable Seas
March 19, 2012 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Give me some examples in media of the creation/summoning/existence of an improbable sea.

One of my favorite books is Abarat, and in the first book the protagonist, who lives in the Midwest, summons a seemingly impossible sea to carry her to the mythical world of Abarat. I recently read a short story, "Women in Fear" by Inaam Kachachi, where another similarly impossible sea appears in the middle of Baghdad, leading me to believe that this may be a metaphor frequently used to represent coming freedom.

I love this image, but I can't find anything on TV Tropes about it - are there any other works where an improbable sea sweeps someone away?

I don't think it relates to Noah's Ark, but I could be wrong.
posted by facehugger to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Ten Commandments.
posted by Melismata at 1:30 PM on March 19, 2012

posted by entropicamericana at 1:41 PM on March 19, 2012

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie features ... well, a sea of stories.
posted by daisyk at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2012

Through the Looking Glass
posted by Francolin at 1:43 PM on March 19, 2012

Not the Ten Commandments -- that's a matter of an existing sea to which something improbable happens.

The only thing that comes to mind is a passage from the book Bailey's Cafe, when a character who is developmentally disabled enters a magic room that can give you whatever you want (think like a less discriminating "Room Of Requirement" from Hogwart's), and what she wants is to visit a specific river. Only in her mind, the mental image she uses to evoke "river" is "endless water," and it turns into a sea that drowns her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on March 19, 2012

Response by poster: I'm not interested in all instances of a "great flood" like Noah's Ark - those tend to be about building a new world, or washing away and destroying the impurities of the old one. Rather, I'm interested in instances where this improbable sea represents a coming freedom.
posted by facehugger at 1:48 PM on March 19, 2012

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens with a painting of the sea which comes to life and floods their room. When the children in the room surface, they've left England and entered Narnia.
posted by jquinby at 1:49 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think rather than the Ten Commandments, as such, which according to Exodus happened on a mountain and involved little in the way of water, we have have in mind the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 13.

The passage through water as a necessary step on the path to salvation is common in Scripture. There's Noah, obviously, but the parting of the Red Sea is held up as illustrating the same point, i.e., all must pass through the waters of judgment, where the righteous are saved while the wicked are destroyed. It's why there's a basin of water in the Temple and why Christians are baptized. But I don't think that's really here or there, and the image is not generally that of a sea which appears out of nowhere, but rather a body of water that must be crossed. This is why we describe death as "crossing over," and the water-as-grave image is pretty fundamental.* Baptism and other ceremonial washings are supposed to be representative of this passing-through-water idea.

As far as literature goes, take a look at AkallabĂȘth, J.R.R. Tolkien's Atlantis myth. A group of men sail across the Western Sea to attack the realm of the gods, when capital-G God strikes the sea and drowns both the fleet and the island from which it sailed. Yes, there's already an ocean involved, but it does something entirely unexpected and permanently different.

*Really, water is just a huge image in Scripture generally, and has several different meanings depending on context. Could be death, could be life, could be the forces of chaos and sin, could be judgment. Depends on what the water is doing and what else is going on.
posted by valkyryn at 1:50 PM on March 19, 2012

The short story Urchins, While Swimming (recently read on Podcastle) has an instance of this, but it's not a liberating freedom.

Since people keep mentioning the Exodus, in Jewish rabbinic tradition there is a belief that Miriam was able to summon water from a rock as needed to slake the people's thirst (called "Miriam's Well"). It has been suggested that this was the same rock that Moses was commanded to speak to, to produce water after her death, which he hit instead, barring himself from entering the holy land. There is also a tie to liberation - Miriam is said to have been granted this power because of her role in organizing and leading the Israelite women in celebration after they crossed the red sea to freedom (when everyone packed basic supplies and treasures, she made sure they would also have tambourines / musical instruments - assuming they would soon have a reason to celebrate their liberation).
posted by Mchelly at 1:59 PM on March 19, 2012

If you don't mind comics, the ever-entertaining Girl Genius has an Ocean In A Bottle.
posted by fearnothing at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2012

One of my favorite books is Abarat, and in the first book the protagonist, who lives in the Midwest, summons a seemingly impossible sea to carry her to the mythical world of Abarat.

I really don't understand what an "improbable sea" or "impossible sea" is. I've never heard that term before in American English. But if you're asking about images regarding crossing a body of water to go to a new place, The River Styx or the River Acheron, taking souls from earth to the Underworld, escorted by Charon, applies.
posted by deanc at 2:02 PM on March 19, 2012

*comes back in blushing*

I was wrong about my answer -- in the book the character lives, and it's in the play I saw that was "inspired by" the book that the character drowns.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on March 19, 2012

Response by poster: re: deanc

In Abarat, the protagonist is trying to run away from a monster, and to some extent her deadbeat life in the American Midwest. She does something with a cube, and this huge sea suddenly emerges amidst all the cornfields and cows and drags her away to another world. The sea retracts, and no one else in the town knew what happened - the cornfields remained.

In "Women of Fear," six Iraqi sisters who are fearful due to the oppressive, patriarchal society around them take a somewhat imaginary bus ride that brings them to a beach and a beautiful sea, which is improbable as Baghdad is nowhere near a sea.

In both cases, the sea is almost unreal, doesn't affect the rest of the "real" world, and represents a never-ending freedom, and a new beginning.

Maybe this image is just present in these two texts, but they're separate enough in context that I think this image might be quite frequent.
posted by facehugger at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2012

A sea appearing between the heroine and a pursuer when she throws an object is a fairy tale motif known as Obstacle Flight -- example.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:24 PM on March 19, 2012

In the movie Ponyo, the titular character is a goldfish who falls in love with a human boy. With the help of her hundreds of younger sisters, she escapes from a bubble wherein her father has imprisoned her, and transforms herself into a human girl. Her sisters become a sea of gigantic magical fish, and carry her to the boy's house, causing a massive flood.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:38 PM on March 19, 2012

In Edgar Allan Poe's (only) novel "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," the protagonist is on a ship that's adrift in a strange antarctic ocean that's luminescent and milky-white, as I recall. The book is trying to suggest the protagonists' encounter with the opening into a hollow Earth.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2012

Truman Show, in a way.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:31 PM on March 19, 2012

China Mieville's Kraken contains a character that is basically "the sea", as a god. Late in the novel (In the last third or so) it makes a dramatic appearance indoors that you'd find pretty cool. The way he turns "the sea" into a physical character is really interesting.
posted by GilloD at 3:37 PM on March 19, 2012

Much of the early inland exploration by white settlers in Australia was motivated by a belief that the continent had a vast inland sea. It didn't exist, but many men died looking for it. The classic book on this tale is Cooper's Creek.
posted by embrangled at 10:08 PM on March 19, 2012

I won't go into detail to avoid spoiling the (fascinating) story, but Ted Chiang's "Tower of Babylon" definitely involves this idea in a similarly mystical/enlightenment context.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:38 PM on March 19, 2012

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